After our adventures around Rurrenebaque exploring the Amazon jungles and the Pampas wetlands, we wanted to head back west to La Paz. We intended to break up the journey to La Paz with a stay in Coroico which we had heard was quite beautiful.
4th February 2000: The Road from Rurre, Bolivia (Day 198 overall)
After taking turns in the pitiful hotel shower and packing our backpacks, we had a simple but large breakfast in the hope it would sustain us on the long bus journey ahead. We made our way to the small bus stop where our bus was due to leave at noon. The driver estimated arrival at Yalosa (from where we could take another short bus ride to Coroico) at about 2am. We were not thrilled to be arriving at that time but there was little choice. Saying a fond farewell to Rurre, we boarded our bus which I would describe as being rather frugal in the comfort department. We stowed our bags and at around 1pm, only an hour late, the bus finally departed.
The road (as with all road outside Bolivian urban areas) was just a dirt track and it was bumpy. There was little chance of reading or playing chess or anything else that required a smoother ride so we were stuck with conversation and imagination. We travelled through thick rain forest and I even saw a Tocu Toucan flying near the bus – my favourite bird in South America! We drove through a few deep rivers and we knew our bags in the hold below would be soaked but we couldn’t worry about that now. After about four hours of being thrown around, we arrived in Yacumo which the first ‘major’ town where we enjoyed a quick break with a packet of biscuits and a cup of tea. We were being careful with expenditure since we had very little cash left due to not finding many places to change money.
The bus set off again but only travelled a few miles before we stopped behind a row of trucks and other buses who were all waiting for the road ahead to open. Apparently there had been some landslides and we wouldn’t be leaving until 10pm – another five hours away! We sat in a nearby cafe and played cards with a couple of friends we had made on the Pampas tour who were on a nearby bus and equally stuck.
Finally, the road was opened and the line of lorries and buses set off again. We weren’t initially concerned by the delay our new estimated arrival time in Yalosa was 8am (up from 2am) which was a much more respectable time! However, this was short lived since after another 2 hours of driving, the we stopped again in another traffic queue. It was midnight so we couldn’t see much but we learned that somewhere just ahead, a 30 meter section of the road had been washed away and we would be here a long time. I settled back into my most uncomfortable seat and tried to get some sleep.
5th February 2000: The Road from Rurre, Bolivia (Day 199 overall)
To say I awoke would be misleading. It was more of a final termination of unsatisfactory dozing. It was early but outside, the early morning light revealed the full extent of the devastation to the road ahead. A huge three-sided crater filled the road from side to side and about 30m long. The depth was about 20 meters and all the waste of what was once the road had been washed away down into the valley below. On the other side, was another queue of trucks, cars and buses which were equally stuck but coming the other way. With a steep cliff upwards on one side, and a sheer drop to the valley on the other, it was difficult to see what could be done. We had no food, only a little water and the stationary traffic stretched as far as we could see in either direction.
Nearby was a little lay-by with a small shack with signs for various food bits. I thought this was a little suspicious that this was in the middle of nowhere but coincidentally but only 100m from the landslide site causing all the vehicles to stop. However, this was short lived since when we went to enquire, they had virtually nothing to actually offer.
Two hours later, we saw a digger making its way up the road behind us. It was slow going and spent an hour just trying to get past the parked vehicles. But finally it reached the edge of the crater turned in towards the upwards cliff, and started digging. We watched for a while but were warned this was going to take some time.
The day wore on and the digger kept going along with a small number of workers who had now arrived. However, it seemed to be making little impact on the vast pile of rocks, trees and mud. At times, it looked as though the digger would itself fall into the crater and on other occasions, it would get properly stuck needing the help of various people from the nearby lorries and buses to pull it out.
We passed the time by playing cards, reading or just watching the digger’s slow progress. The only excitement was when on the opposite side, we observed a mad scramble of bodies as people jumped away from the edge of the crater as another section fell away and into the pit. Not far behind us, the heavy rain throughout the day had caused a small river that was washing across the road to become a bigger river which diverted along the road beside us to wash into the crater pit further eroding the muddy road.
By early evening, the small ‘restaurant’ showed some entrepreneurial spirit by starting to make some bread rolls. However, before they were ready, we were called over by the driver. The digger had managed to carve a narrow muddy track in the mountain side skirting the edge of the crater. Along with all the other passengers, we had to walk through the deep mud of this track as the workers were afraid the buses may cause more landslips. Then the buses took their turn but many got stuck and had to be pulled out by the other vehicles on the side they were heading to. Luckily, since we were near the front, our bus was one of the first through and so finally, covered in mud, wet through from the rain, tired and very hungry – we were back on our way.
Ten minutes later, we reached another hole in the road.
Thankfully, this was hole not nearly so big and after an hour of everyone bunging in rocks and logs, we managed to create a sort of roadway and set off again.
Half an hour passed before the bus got stuck again – but this time just in the deep mud of the road turned to mush by the rain. Again we all jumped off and helped push the bus through. Back on board, despite the discomfort of the seats – I went straight into a heavy sleep.
6th February 2000: Arriving in Coroico, Bolivia (Day 200 overall)
The journey had continued through the evening and into the night with only a couple more small delays. Yesterday’s distant acceptance of the first delay thinking it would move our 2am arrival time to a more reasonable 8am was now laughable since we finally arrived in Yalosa at 2am – a full 24 hours after our original estimate and 38 hours after our original departure. The bus dropped us off and drove off into the night. We were left considering what to do since it was a 7km walk up the road to the town of Coroico perched on a hill above.
After a coffee in a street stall that was strangely still open in the middle of the night, we decided that rather than sit and wait for the mini bus which wasn’t due until 7am, we might as well start walking. The dirt road was no more than a collection of mud and rocks. There was no Moon which meant it was pitch black except for the light from our head torches to help keep us on the path as we slowly climbed the hill.
Apart from the occasional dog barking us away from some of the houses we passed, we met no one and saw nothing. Our packs felt heavy and we felt exhausted as we slowly made the climb and it remained very dark throughout. It took about 4 hours to reach the top of the hill and the small town of Coroico just us the first glimmer of light appeared in the distant sky.
We had met an Ozzie called Jim on the bus journey who had tagged along with us on the walk and he knew of a place to stay called Hotel Esmeralda. It was slightly more expensive than we were used to, but it was a very pleasant change from our previous two nights on the bus. It was still early and we had to wait a while before we could get any rooms. As soon as one was free, we all piled in to get cleaned up. Mark and Irinia went straight to sleep whilst Jono and I watched videos.
Coroico seems a nice town with cobbled streets and simple white washed buildings. We’d only met a couple of morning drunks but sprinkling of restaurants and bars suggested a good night life.
In the hotel and two films later, people the rest of the gang began to awake and we headed down for breakfast – not as tasty as the price might suggest but very welcome all the same. We played chess and a long game of Risk before more videos and finally heading into town for a quick snack of spag-bog. Before bed, we even took a dip in the refreshingly cold hotel swimming pool!